CAPE CANAVERAL - Actor George Takei played the helmsman of the original USS Enterprise on the classic TV series "Star Trek," but he was in awe Monday at Kennedy Space Center when he saw engineers and technicians making space travel a reality.

"I'm an actor. We just created the illusion of space. But here, the real thing is being done," Takei said. "What I see being done here is really the launching pad of the future."

Takei, 69, is best known for playing Mr. Sulu on the cult classic, which aired from 1966 through 1969. He and the fictional crew of the Starship Enterprise explored space and defended the United Federation of Planets.

More recently, though, Takei came out as a homosexual, and he came to KSC to talk with workers about the value of diversity in complex team efforts.

"Star Trek certainly demonstrated that. We had visual diversity -- an African woman, an Asian man, a pointy-eared alien. But you also heard the diversity -- the Scottish accent of the engineer, the Russian accent of our navigator, the southern drawl of our doctor," he said.

"The point we were trying to make is that there are diversities that you can hear. But another layer of that diversity that you can't see or hear is sexual orientation. And sexual orientation can contribute to the strength of whatever enterprise you are engaged in."

Takei, who now appears periodically on "The Howard Stern Show" and is cast in the NBC TV show "Heroes," also had an opportunity to tour restricted areas at KSC.

He got a close look at components being readied for launch to the International Space Station, NASA's twin shuttle launch pads and technicians working on a winged orbiter in its processing hangar.

"When I walked through the orbiter assembly area, they all looked at me as something of a hero. But we're just actors. They are the real heroes," Takei said. "They are the ones that are in fact creating the future that we fabricated for television."

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